"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Saturday, May 2, 2009

PHoC -- chapter 3

This chapter is titled "Ethics: The Love of Neighbor" and deals with four topics in particular. I found this chapter of great interest and, sadly, very far removed from most of American Christianity. I forgot to mention these first three chapters deal with Christianity in the years of "The Way" from 100 to 500 A.D. Here are things I noted from each of the four areas she discussed: hospitality, communalism, peacemaking and strangers and aliens.

Great stuff on hospitality! Instead of thinking in our terms of throwing parties and social gatherings, think more in line with Luke 14:12,13 & Mt. 25:34-36. Welcome "the least of these" into our homes and hearts. "Outsiders -- unlovely, unwanted human beings -- are brought inside the circle of protection and care as usual social relationships are disrupted or reversed. . . . To us hospitality is an industry, not a practice, one that summons Martha Stewart to mind more quickly than Jesus Christ. But to ancient Christians hospitality was a virtue, part of the love of neighbor and fundamental to being a person of the way. While contemporary Christians tend to equate morality with sexual ethics, our ancestors defined morality as welcoming the stranger." (pg. 61,62) As African theologian Tertullian put it: "'Only look,' they say, 'look how they love one another!'" (pg. 65)

Communalism was practiced by early Christians up until the time Christianity was made the official religion of the empire by Constantine. The church/state along with pastors and bishops started accumulating wealth and became wealthy. Around this time they started making Jesus' statement about selling everything you have and giving it to the poor allegorical rather than literal as most believers did the years following Christ's ministry on earth. Early Christian instruction manuals "warned against the evils of loving money and failing to be generous, even condemning 'advocates of the rich' to hell." (pg. 66) One early church father, John Chrysostom, advocated selling all private property and adopting communal living arrangements. He "championed the church's social responsibility toward the poor, the practice of hospitality, and the need for Christians to live in simplicity." (pg. 69)

Peacemaking -- "Before theologians Ambrose and Augustine in later decades made a case for just war, Christians were not allowed to fight. No record exists that Christians served in the Roman army before the year 170. The strong consensus of the early church teachers was that war meant killing, killing was murder, and murder was wrong. . . Justin Marytr, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian, and Origen all specifically condemned participation in war. ... While Tertullian emphasized the negative aspects of the military to Christian discipleship, Origen pointed out the positive vision of a life of Christian peacemaking. He criticized the army as a society of 'professional violence,' pointing out that Jesus forbids any kind of violence or vengeance against another. 'We will not raise arms against any other nation, we will not practice the art of war,' he wrote, 'because through Jesus Christ we have become the children of peace.' To him the spiritual life means rejecting all forms of violence, an 'absolute pacifism.'" (pgs. 71,72)

Strangers and Aliens -- "Christianity is neither an ethnicity nor earthly citizenship but a way of life that is somehow at odds with the societies in which the faithful reside. Christians may look like everyone else, but their actions -- including practices of hospitality, charity, and nonviolence -- make them different." (pg. 74-- from early Christian texts) The author points out verses such a John 17:15 & 16 and Hebrews 11:13.

After Christianity was made the official state religion, many things changed. "Indeed, in the next century being a Christian became a requirement for serving in the army. By the end of Constantine's reign, Christianity had been completely transformed. Christians no longer had to be 'resident aliens' or 'settled migrants.' Instead they held dual citizenship in Rome and the heavenly city. Or, as seemed to many, with a Christian emperor and a court of bishops, Rome was God's heavenly city and the kingdom of God had taken up earthly residence. . .. The Christian paradox was lost, and the original vision of Christianity as a way of life yielded to faith as the prerequisite for worldly comfort and success." (pg. 78)

Any thoughts?

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